I’ve been to a lot of farms in my day but have never witnessed one so profoundly bent on creating a closed-loop symbiotic system as Whiskey Hill Farms. This 14-acre CCOF certified organic farm cultivates tropical plants, heirloom vegetables and biorefined high-grade commercial alcohol!
I met David Blume, part innovative farmer and part mad scientist, on a midsummer day. I had the opportunity to have my mind blown several times that day touring his farm and distillery.
This is the first of a two-part blog which will focus on food waste and Blume Distillation.
No such thing as waste
Blume Distillationis all about turning food waste into clean, renewable fuel. The prototype, nestled deep in the heart of the Parajo Valley, can process all sorts of things like potatoes, onions, apples and carrots.
David points out that “Potatoes are the largest vegetable product eaten in the US – about 100 pounds per person per year. It turns out that more than ½ of the potato goes to waste (French fries are square, and potatoes are round). Over 1B pounds of food goes to waste every year in the US.”
California recently gave counties two years before it’s illegal for food waste to go into landfills. They have already started banning food processors from taking waste to the dump.
David has a vision that landfill operators could install his alcohol plants on site to process all the food that’s coming in. The excess water that comes from the process could be sprayed on the landfill and alcohol could fuel their vehicles.
David muses that “We are working with local banks, farmers and investor prospects to put Blume Biorefineries in place in California (we have a project to place plants and fuel stations down Highway 99 making clean, inexpensive and renewable fuel available to drivers crossing our great state.”
Their vision is to install their technology and turn the food waste ‘problem’ into a solution. David added, “We like to say around here that there is no such thing as waste. Waste is always a negative word that seems to mean that it’s the opposite of valuable. But it just points out that the speaker of the word hasn’t thought about what to do with that stuff and make money with it. In our businesses, stuff other people throw away we find a use for and make money with it.”
The process is part biology – fermentation – and part physics
Raw food waste goes into formidable tanks where its fermented and heated. Over several days the process eats sugars, exudes alcohol and breathes out carbons dioxide. The carbon dioxide is collected, compressed and used later to enhance his plant production.
Eventually, they produce 200-proof alcohol that is immediately suitable for clean-burning fuel.
They also make pharmaceutical grade alcohol which has all the trace materials taken out.
A solution to our energy needs?
David’s plants produce clean-burning pure alcohol, and all gasoline vehicles can use alcohol. In fact, modern cars can run on 30-50% alcohol without any changes to the engine.
Why is that important? David added, “30% of our oil comes from the Middle East right now. If we just said, ‘sorry we don’t want your oil, our farmers will make the 30% that we need.’ Things would really change. Let them keep their oil.
No need to put our military men and women at risk, propping up one regime over another over there. And think what we could do with all the tax money we’d save not needing as big a military. Libraries and pools open 7 days a week, schools fully funded with art and music departments, too; all the potholes fixed, social security and the VA fully funded. What the heck. Maybe we’d even be able to vote for a farmer for president.”
Many countries in Scandinavian in Latin America are also looking to alcohol to solve their future energy needs.
David said, “Brazil is the biggest county using alcohol for fuel, and they have no air pollution problem from cars. If Brazil can do it why can’t we?”
Alcohol as a cooking fuel
The Mapuche people in Chile are using his distilleries and contracting with local farmers to produce sugar beets and sorghum to produce the alcohol.
The need in Chile isn’t for cars, though, it’s for cooking. Billions of people still cook over open fires in their homes choking on the smoke. It’s estimated that cooking smoke kills 4M women per year. David added that “if you want to stop deforestation, you have to stop using wood for cooking. The way to do that is with ethanol which has no emissions.”
Clean burning fuel
David demonstrated by filling two Pyrex bowls – one with gasoline and the other with his pure alcohol. The effect was startling. The gasoline burned heavy with noxious smoke while the alcohol burned bright and clean with no odor or plume.
“A lot of that is waste which is against the law in my book.” David continued, “The alcohol burns 99% pollution free in cars, and in an African house instead of burning wood it’s the difference of night and day. Half of the people in the world cook with either kerosene or wood. Alcohol can be made in any village – it’s a smaller distillery for say 10,000 people, and they don’t have to walk hours to cut down wood.”
David mused that “Most of the problems in our country would be solved if you only asked farmers for the answer.”
Stay tuned for the follow-up post which will dive deeper into the symbiosis of alcohol distillation and organic farming. I promise it will be a gas.